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Back in race, Rockies face 2nd-half decisions

Colorado sits two games back in NL West after recent hot streak
MLB.com @harding_at_mlb

DENVER -- Reeling during the second half of June, the Rockies won 13 of their final 16 first-half games and have gone from potential sellers to potential buyers, sitting just two games out of first place in the National League West and two out of the NL Wild Card race.

Third baseman Nolan Arenado spent the first half hitting 23 home runs and building an NL Most Valuable Player Award case, while shortstop Trevor Story, center fielder Charlie Blackmon, right fielder Carlos Gonzalez and left fielder Gerardo Parra overcame slow starts to become big contributors at the end of the first half of the season.

DENVER -- Reeling during the second half of June, the Rockies won 13 of their final 16 first-half games and have gone from potential sellers to potential buyers, sitting just two games out of first place in the National League West and two out of the NL Wild Card race.

Third baseman Nolan Arenado spent the first half hitting 23 home runs and building an NL Most Valuable Player Award case, while shortstop Trevor Story, center fielder Charlie Blackmon, right fielder Carlos Gonzalez and left fielder Gerardo Parra overcame slow starts to become big contributors at the end of the first half of the season.

Now, the real story.

From Opening Day to May 29, the Rockies went 30-25, had a 4.26 starters ERA and held opponents to a .257 batting average and a .745 OPS, not off the charts but decent. Since June 26, Colorado starters are 8-1 with a 2.47 ERA, a .201 batting average and a .571 OPS against.

Current status: Hold
If form holds in an NL West that has seen teams undergo dramatic ups and downs, the Rockies should be close enough at the non-waiver Trade Deadline to entertain several shrewd moves. But there are a couple reasons why Colorado may focus on holding firm, rather than all-out buying:

• Like this past season, when the Rockies grabbed one of the NL Wild Card berths, there is a talented starting staff that by many assessments could use a front-line veteran. But in 2017, Colorado didn't feel comfortable parting with its pitching depth nor its prospects who were in the Major League picture to get, say, a Justin Verlander. This year, the legitimate question is whether any of the starters expected to be available warrant parting with strong young talent.

• A few contending teams in the American League have been a presence at recent Rockies games, obtaining information just in case the team struggles and decides to sell. Righty reliever Adam Ottavino and second baseman DJ LeMahieu are the top targets. Teams with specific holes could take a gander at Gonzalez and Parra, or even starter Chad Bettis if he regains his form after the blister on his right middle finger heals.

What they are seeking
The right-handed side of bullpen is getting stronger, after high-salaried pickups Bryan Shaw (three years, $27 million) and Wade Davis (three years, $52 million) addressed issues that reduced their effectiveness early in the season. Also, Ottavino -- on the short list of the Rockies' first-half MVP candidates -- overcame a left oblique strain that sent the 'pen into a tizzy in his absence.

But can the Rockies improve from the left side? Jake McGee (three years, $27 million) and Chris Rusin have both struggled. They've had several solid outings recently, but haven't reached pennant-race consistency.

What they have to offer
If the Rockies address the bullpen, it's instructive to look at how they obtained righty Pat Neshek from the Phillies and catcher Jonathan Lucroy from the Rangers just before last year's Deadline. Those deals showed that it's a misnomer to say the Rox won't deal prospects for players on expiring contracts. 

Two of the players Colorado sent to Philadelphia for Neshek are on the Phillies' Top 30 Prospects list per MLB Pipeline -- infielder Jose Gomez (No. 16) and righty reliever J.D. Hammer (24). Outfielder Pedro Gonzalez, who was dealt for Lucroy, is No. 9 on the Rangers' list.

Possible scenario
For a deal for anyone who adds to the Rockies' payroll to occur, general manager Jeff Bridich might need to do a selling job to ownership. That's especially true in the bullpen, where the club could reasonably decide to trust its investments.

Because the Rockies have been quiet about whom they seek -- if they're even seeking at all -- no names have been connected to the team. But if lefty relief is the way to go, it might be smart to look at last year's strategy. The Rox approached teams that weren't in the race who were looking for legitimate prospects that they didn't have to immediately put on the Major League 40-man roster.

Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter and like his Facebook page.

Colorado Rockies